Hit by an unexpected Windows 10 upgrade? Here's how to recover

If you know somebody who woke up to find Windows 10 on their computer, perhaps this advice will console them

Hit by an unexpected Windows 10 upgrade? Here's how to recover
Credit: Thinkstock

Judging by the volume of complaints I've been hearing, Microsoft made a mighty push over the weekend to get every Windows 7 user (and the few who are still running Windows 8.1) to move on to Windows 10.

Some people don't like change simply because it's change. Some people don't like Windows 10. Many aren't ready. And most resent being pushed. If you know somebody who was shoved, here's what you can tell them.

It wasn't your fault...

Microsoft has ratcheted up its Win10 upgrade efforts, going from an irritating advertising campaign to "reserve" an upgrade (reserving free bits -- what a marketing concept) to "accidental" forced upgrades to increasingly dicey signup notices ("Upgrade Now/Upgrade Tonight") to hidden folders with 3GB to 6GB of unwanted downloaded data to GWX processes that automatically restart themselves. Those are the more noticeable dirty tricks.

If you were upgraded to Win10 in the past week, you were likely swept up in Microsoft's latest round of three-card monte. As it stand, if you have Windows Automatic Update turned on and you don't do anything -- anything at all -- Microsoft automatically initiates the upgrade to Windows 10. Even if you try to X out of a dialog box like the "Windows 10 is a Recommended Update for this PC" (screenshot courtesy of Groovypost), Win10 will start installing.

win10 upgrade forced

How to hide a Hobson's choice

Microsoft is changing the rules. The only way to work around this kind of notification is to click the tiny "here" on the fourth line. Everything else drives you into accepting the upgrade. Other people report other kinds of notifications. Heaven only knows which one you did -- or didn't -- see.

You probably clicked on something you shouldn't have

Now that I've taken that load of guilt off your shoulders, it's time to face up to the facts.

As best I can tell, everyone who recently had Windows 10 installed on their machines clicked on an End User License Agreement that looks like this screenshot.

win10 upgrade eula

"Accept" means "Install Windows 10"

You're probably accustomed to clicking through EULAs, and this one is many dozens of screens long. This EULA doesn't say "Click Accept and you'll be upgraded to Windows 10," although in fact that's what happens: You click Accept on the EULA and, without doing anything else, you're upgraded to Windows 10. Deceptive? You decide: Windows 10 is mentioned exactly twice on this EULA dialog, way down at the bottom in tiny print.

I know many of you swear you didn't click Accept on a Win10 EULA, but from what I've seen, you must have -- although I'd sure welcome some hard evidence to the contrary.

Pro tip: If you get to this point, click Decline on the EULA, wait about five minutes, and Windows 7 returns the way it was.

You can probably go back to Windows 7

As long as your unexpected upgrade happened within the past 30 days, chances are reasonably good that you can roll back to Windows 7 (or 8.1).

If you're lucky, and you know what you're doing, rolling back to Win7 is as easy as clicking Start > Settings > Update & security > Recovery. On the right, you'll see an entry to "Go back to Windows 7" or "Go back to Windows 8.1."

From that point, you have some choices to make about keeping your files, and the rollback can take many minutes or even hours. Note that rolling back may not keep new files you've created, depending on where they're stored.

I provided details about what to do, how to do it, and how to recover from errors and glitches (there are many) in the rollback process in my Feb. 18 post, "How to roll back your Windows 10 upgrade."

Once you're back to the version of Windows you're used to, run GWX Control Panel to keep from getting dragged to the woodshed again.

There's a silver lining

All is not sackcloth and ashes. Getting your nose rubbed in Windows 10 or (depending on your POV) seeing the blinding light of Windows 10 enlightenment has salubrious side effects.

Once your system has been touched by Windows 10, you will always be able to upgrade it to Windows 10 for free -- even if you rolled it back to Windows 7 -- as long as you don't change the motherboard or other key innards. At least, that's the promise from Microsoft Press author and ZDNet columnist Ed Bott. (I haven't seen any independent confirmation from Microsoft, but Bott's blogs are thoroughly reviewed by Microsoft.) The key is called a "digital entitlement," which (in theory) says that this particular PC has a valid copy of Windows 10 forever.

I know that many of you think of that as a booby prize, but at least it's free.

Do you now love Windows?

Back in January 2015, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said, "We want to move from people needing Windows, to choosing Windows, to loving Windows. That is our goal."

In Oct. 2015, Windows honcho Terry Myerson told us, "We understand you care deeply about what happens with your device. This is why -- regardless of your upgrade path -- you can choose to upgrade or decline the offer… You can specify that you no longer want to receive notifications of the Windows 10 upgrade through the Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 settings pages."

How well do you reckon Microsoft has fulfilled its pledges?

Don't get me wrong, I like Windows 10. I've been using it all day, every day, for more than a year. I've written a 1,000-page book about it, and I'm about to start work on a second edition. I think Windows 10 is great -- if you understand and accept its wayward ways. But this forced updating is, in my opinion, the most customer-antagonistic act Microsoft has ever undertaken.

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